in Your Web Design
By Jennifer Dunne
you're a working author, you need a web site.
In today's Internet-based society, where research is equated with typing
keywords into a search engine, you can't afford not to have one.
But just as you'd never send a manuscript to an editor that was filled
with typos, on ragged paper stained with coffee, so too your web site acts as a
first impression to people who may never meet you. They will judge whether or
not to buy your books or hire you to write articles based on what they see on
your web site.
you nervous yet, ready to obsess about yet one more obstacle preventing you from
becoming the next J.K. Rowling? There's
no need to worry. A good web site
dedicated staff of technical support people, although those are nice if you can
get them. What it does require,
however, is a well thought out design.
can hear your complaints now. "But
isn't that why I'm paying a web designer?"
"I'm using a template that's already got the design included."
"I don't know anything about web design."
Let me rephrase those questions in real world terms.
When you buy clothes, the cost of a fashion designer is included in the
price -- but you still have a personal style of what you wear, don't you?
And using a design template is the same as buying a house that's a
no-option double-wide modular home. If
you had to visit someone's home, would you rather visit a sterile prefab or a
lovingly detailed Arts & Crafts style bungalow?
And finally, you probably don't know how to design an automobile, but you
know in what style you want to be seen driving around.
That's all the level of programming knowledge you need to know in order
to design a web site.
design plan will consist of answers to the following seven questions.
Based on those answers, you can then go ahead and program it yourself if
you have a technical bent. You can
just as easily give the plan to a commercial web designer who will be able to
a web site?
are only two reasons to have a web site. You're
providing information, or you're selling something.
If you're a self-published author, or you have stacks of book copies
you're trying to unload, you'll be selling something.
Make the purchase process as simple and secure as possible, with plenty
of technical support for when things go wrong (as they will). Otherwise, you're going to be providing information, and
encouraging people to go somewhere else to actually buy your work.
Make sure your information is worth the time your visitors spend reading
it, and that they have a clear path for the next step they need to take.
are your customers?
you planning on attracting large numbers of first-time visitors?
Repeat visitors? Secondary
sales? If you only have one book,
you'll need to maximize the number of visitors in order to make more sales.
Some methods of doing this are maximizing your links from other diverse
sites, participating in banner exchanges, and sponsoring contests.
If you have books coming out every few months, you'll want to give people
a reason to return, so that they'll know about your newest release (and
hopefully go out and buy it). Change
your content frequently. Secondary
sales are things like journals and workbooks to go along with nonfiction books,
or maps, artwork, and reference books that elaborate upon a fantasy world.
To serve these customers, develop your site with many cohesive
references, so that regardless of the item of interest the visitor first looks
up, a range of complementary products are suggested that may also be of
interest. Which brings us to the
do your visitors want?
this question does not ask what you will offer them.
Rather, it asks what they want.
The answer to this question should be a statement of values.
At the most basic level, your visitors want to satisfy an urge, or lessen
pain. Figuring out how to tap into
the most common motivators will increase your site's usefulness and appeal,
translating into more sales. At the
very least, provide excerpts to relieve net-surfers' boredom.
one thing will your site do?
is your web site's "killer application."
If it is a true killer application, this will drive most of the traffic
to your web site, and people will return over and over again to use it. The Forward Motion community at Holly Lisle's web site is a
perfect example of a killer application. Some
other applications are comprehensive and current market listings, scrupulously
detailed historical references and timelines, and interactive gaming.
Once you find your killer application, everything else at your site
should be designed to support it.
will you identify your site?
are five different ways to brand your site, so that visitors know instantly
whether or not they're still on the site. The
next time they visit it, they're more likely to remember a strongly branded
site. Although you don't have to
use all five elements, the more you use, the stronger the impact your branding
has. You can have a character or
mascot associated with your site. (An
example of this is the Simon character on mysimon.com.)
You can use common colors. You
can include a logo, either as part of the heading of each page or as the
wallpaper behind the text on each page. You
can use common text or typefaces. And
you can include thematic motifs. This
is the aspect of design that most web designers will focus on, so be sure to
take advantage of their knowledge and suggestions if you're hiring a designer.
If you're doing it yourself, pick up a book like The Non-Designer's
Web Book by Robin Williams and John Tollet that will tell you all you need
to know in order to fake a background in graphic design.
is your competition?
last two questions are closely related. The
first recognizes that there are billions of people surfing the web every day,
but very few of those will actually visit your web site.
What sites are they visiting instead?
Include sites both within your industry, of other authors or publishers,
and outside your industry, such as sites for movies and TV.
is your site different?
final question summarizes the design. For
each of the sites you have identified as a competitor, list why your site is
better. Your site must provide
additional function, be easier to use, or cost less, and in a perfect world, do
that you know how you want your site identified, and what elements and
applications are required to make it more appealing to your target customers
than the competitors' sites, it's a trivial matter to turn that design into a
working web site. Take your list to
a commercial web designer, or program it yourself with the help of simple
lessons and tutorials such as the ones at www.htmlgoodies.com.
you'd like an example of how the elements of this design plan work in a real
life implementation, consider my web site, www.jenniferdunne.com.
It is providing information, to both new and repeat visitors.
I included persistent navigation, to find the information desired, and a
"what's new" page to highlight the changes to the site.
I also included a page showing all the ways to order my books -- with
four publishers of both ebooks and paperbacks, I need to minimize confusion and
the opportunity to lose potential sales. My
visitors have varied interests, usually something related to romance, fantasy,
or the occult, and I offer them access to the research material on which my
books are based. My "killer application" is an interactive tarot
reading, performed by a character from one of my books.
(It's not really a killer application, but I'm working on that.)
The site uses a common set of colors and gemstone graphics, as well as
using the same typeface for all buttons and page headings.
It competes against other authors' sites and nonfiction research and
community sites in my target subjects. The
primary additional function it offers is a sense of whimsy and fun -- it's set
up to describe "tours" to different worlds complete with pictures --
but it's also clearly laid out and simple to navigate, and completely free.
told you there was no reason for you to worry.
If you answered the questions and built your own design plan, you're
already more than half way to having an attractive, effective web site.